Tricky Holiday Scenarios and Their Pairings

Roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, more pies than the people around the table can possibly eat in one meal (but isn’t it delightful to try?)

Thanksgiving is, after Halloween, my favorite holiday of the year. I have amazing memories of my giant family (8 siblings) gathered around the table, eating green bean casserole, Boston Brown bread- baked inside aluminum cans, and spending the day playing board games, watching movies and our family Turkey Bowl. (Note: If the opposing team forms a line in front of the End Zone to block your touchdown, there is NOTHING in the rules to keep the team from handing off the football to a particularly light and perky (not to mention overly adventurous red head girl who knows NOTHING about football) and launching her over the defensive wall, into the End Zone. It’s surprising to me that this strategy isn’t more widely used.)

Thanksgiving for everyone across the country is a day of family, whether it’s the family you were born to or the one you chose for yourself, it’s a day of love and happiness and gluttony unlike any other in the US.

Of course, with family comes conflict- it’s inevitable. But never fear, I have compiled a list of possible holiday scenarios and ways to cope. (Responsible Adult Note: I’m not saying drinking is the only way to survive a big holiday meal, but in my experience it seriously helps. Also, call an Uber, don’t drive.)

Scenario 1: Everyone in your family (besides you) attended a specific university (I’m not saying BYU- Go Cougars?) The football team somehow made it to a Thanksgiving day game and they’re getting the crap kicked out of them. This game is in overtime which means dinner is being pushed back by five “football minutes” (very different from real-time minutes). The turkey is drying out, the cranberry relish is warming, the gravy is forming a skin on top… oh, and you haven’t eaten in three days to prep your appetite. You’re hungry, they’re cranky and the pies smell amazing.

Pairing: You don’t know how long you’re going to need to drink, so keep it LOW alcohol, low in intensity. This is DEFINITELY the job for a beer (not a heavy craft brew) or maybe a Moscato d’Asti (around 5-6%) or an Alsatian Riesling at about 8%. Make sure it’s light and refreshing and keeping your palate clean enough to sneak tastes between now and the time dinner actually starts.

Scenario 2: Cousin Gary brought his new boyfriend- no one knew he was looking for a BOYfriend- his mom, Aunt Carol, included.

Pairing: So here’s the thing, THIS could be the gift that keeps on giving- the snark, the passive-aggressive comments, the “subtle” bible verses… This is a long game, a marathon, NOT a sprint- Aunt Carol can actually be pretty funny when in passive-aggressive mode. HOWEVER, on the flip side, a lot of what’s going to be said is possibly offensive to you, so being too drunk just isn’t going to work if you’re going to keep your mouth mostly shut. I’d suggest a light-bodied red, maybe a Cru Beaujolais (NOT Nouveau- just spike Welch’s with vodka at that point) or a Pinot Noir from France. You’ll be able to drink it all night, it won’t have too much alcohol for you, but they have the structure and “guzzle factor” that means you’ll feel a bit of a buzz as you hear Carol wailing about never getting to plan a “real” wedding or have grandbabies.

Scenario 3: “So… how’s that acting/music/English/art degree working out for you?”

Pairing: First of all, pro tip- DO NOT SHOOT BACK WITH “how’s your botched plastic surgery lawsuit going?” Believe me, it’s not going to go as well as you might think. But, what to drink when your family is picking at your life choices, your career immobility, your regrettable fashion choices now memorialized on social media? Well, I’d say go big- it’s tough being attacked on this level, something like a Chateauneuf du Pape would be the decadence you deserve. BUT, since you probably DID get that ridiculous acting/music/English/art degree, it seems unlikely you can afford it. So just try another Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre blend (the grapes in CNdP) from the Southern Rhone or even Australia; they easily run below $20/bottle, many under $15, and are just as decadent and amazing. Trust me, it won’t be too hard to forget about what Aunt Doris said- never mind the fact she didn’t even go to college and her precious William is more interested in playing D&D in her basement than studying for the SATs anyways.

Scenario 4: Your brother and sister-in-law just bought an AMAZING new McMansion- 4,000 sq ft, on two acres of land, a gourmet kitchen, it’s Suburban Paradise… so they’re hosting this year for the first time. Oh, and they don’t know how to cook. Turkey is dry, rolls didn’t rise, jello salad is melted and the gravy has enough lumps you’re slightly worried it has cancer.

Pairing: Embrace the fact that dinner is going to be terrible, but you still need a certain amount of calories in a day, so imbibe them via wine. But since red wines can feel kind of heavy on an empty stomach, I’m recommending keep it light with anything sparkling that isn’t too sweet- Prosecco, Cava, Cremant,Champagne- it’s all golden here. And don’t worry about glasses, feel free to chug it out of the bottle because you were promised dinner and this is fucking crap, so you’re entitled to get as drunk as you want. Not to mention, now you don’t have to pretend to help with the dishes- you didn’t use any!

Scenario 5: So, when are you two getting pregnant?

Pairing: Tequila. Unless you’re actually pregnant, (please don’t drink tequila if you’re pregnant). But you can say “none of your business”. You can try “I don’t know, we keep trying (insert disgusting and non-procreative sex act here) and it just hasn’t worked yet!” Generally speaking, in my not at all statistically relevant research, that bitch is going to ask that until you or her are dead.  She’s going to ask your gay Cousin Gary and his boyfriend named Sumner (don’t get me started on the name), and feel 100% entitled to know the answer. She won’t even care if this makes you break down and sob because you know you CAN’T have kids. This is a crappy question to ask people, they really should mind their own business, but in the meantime screw the wine, this is the job for our brother from across the border, Senor Tequila.

**Oh, quick side note: 3 tbsp pumpkin puree, 1 tbsp triple sec and a little bit of water, mixed with cinnamon and tequila make for an unbelievable Pumpkin Margarita- try rimming the glass with pumpkin pie spice and sugar if you’re really trying to impress. It isn’t common, it isn’t typical, but it’s delicious. Drink three of those babies and you’ll barely remember what ANYONE said around the dinner table on Thanksgiving!

Have a Happy Turkey Day! Remember, when in dout, Gewurtztraminer or an unoaked Chardonnay are my choice of whites with turkey dinners,  a French Pinot Noir (do not overlook red Burgundy- it’s like shooting fish in a barrel!) or maybe even a somewhat zestier but still less jammy Southern Rhone Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre (GSM) blend.

Happy Holidays!

Chardonnay 101: Not Just for Real Housewives

Chardonnay rocks. There, I said it- red wine-obsessed Meg loves this grape. To me, it’s a white wine for people who like the structure and body of a red wine, as well as for foodies who want a lot of fruit and acid. It’s also a prime example of the versatility of a grape and the impact the winemaker, climate and the terroir can have on a wine.  

Chardonnay rocks. There, I said it- red wine-obsessed Meg loves this grape. To me, it’s a white wine for people who like the structure and body of a red wine, as well as for foodies who want a lot of fruit and acid. It’s also a prime example of the versatility of a grape and the impact the winemaker, climate and the terroir can have on a wine.  The difference between a chardonnay out of Burgundy in France vs New Zealand is massive- a white Burgundy is going to have flavors of lemon, pear, green apple, probably some minerality (think about licking a flagstone from your garden- that’s what I mean by minerality); it’s going to be complex, have tons of acid and a crisp finish. But go closer to the Equator, to New Zealand and you’re looking at a wine that’s going to burst with tropical fruit flavors like pineapple and melons. Plus, it’s probably spent some time aging in oak and that’s going to give it flavors of toasted nuts and cream.

Before I get into the wine tasting portion of this post, let me give you some more information on the grape.

Around 800 AD Emperor Charlemagne owned some vineyards in Burgundy. Apparently the Emperor also was a bit of a hot mess- just a total slob at the dinner table and his wife got sick of him having red wine stains all up in his beard, so she ordered white grapes to be planted in their Burgundy vineyards. And because chardonnay is a much heartier and easier to grow varietal than the area’s famous pinot noir, it really took off and became, until 1976 and the Judgement of Paris, the quintessential chardonnay.

Chardonnay grows just about everywhere, from temperate to fairly cool climates- but it does do best in soils full of limestone, clay and chalk. The vines start budding very early in the season so frosts are a concern, but it takes about an extra week to ripen over pinot noir letting it really develop the high sugar content into high acidity- which is what makes it such an incredible wine to pair food with.

A lot of people talk about the buttery and vanilla qualities of chardonnay- frequently that’s their reason for disliking it. Here’s the thing, the vanilla and butter qualities are coming from malolactic fermentation (MLF). MLF, or I’ve heard a bunch of experts call it just malo, is the process of taking the sour, pucker worthy acid of the juice and rounding it out into it’s more buttery/creamy tones. This happens when the acid in wine is introduced to certain bacteria that basically eat the malic acid in grapes and give off softer, rounder, more buttery lactic acids.

And when talking white wines, especially chardonnay, you gotta talk about oak. A lot of white wines don’t spend any time in oak, stainless steel being the most common while others actually use cement or clay- the idea being that most whites are just too delicate for oak- it overwhelms the gorgeous but light floral and fruity perfumes. But chardonnay- that’s a heartier grape and oak can really stiffen up that backbone.

Oak barrels have tiny, pretty much microscopic pores that allow oxygen in, slowly exposing the wine to oxygen. Add to that, American oak is more porous than French oak, and that begins to explain why Sonoma- especially the Russian River Valley- produce chardonnays with such distinctive flavors of vanilla, cream, baking spice and caramel- not only is that a characteristic of American oak barrel aging, but the more porous the barrel is, the more MLF the wine experiences.

Sips of Information on Chardonnay:

Flavor profile: Fruit up front (pear, green apple and lemon in cooler climates, pineapple, tangerine, melon in warm climates. Oaked: smoke, vanilla, cream, baking spices (nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon).

Most famous regions: Burgundy (check out Maiconnaise, Pouilly Fuisse), California’s Sonoma (Russian River Valley), New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Oregon, Washington

Best Food Pairings: Buttery popcorn. Seriously, you might be downing beers or something while sitting at home and watching your favorite movie, but I promise, next time you sit down for a favorite flick, just pour a chardonnay- any chardonnay will work. The acid in the wine is going to cut through the butter of the popcorn, the fruit is going to be refreshing and keep you awake, even if the movie is a little boring. If you’re really worried about the quality of the movie being more in line with Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, go with a new world Chardonnay- they tend to be higher in alcohol content, so maybe, just maybe, you won’t notice so much.

Unconventional Food Pairings: Steak- I promise, the full body rises to the occasion while the high acid helps to cut through the fat in the meat and some of the creaminess of the sauce. This is a great thing to take to a summer barbecue when you want to enjoy the crisp, refreshing qualities of chardonnay, but don’t want the wine to completely overpower your meal. Not to mention, it’s also going to be ridiculously good with the creamy potato salad and coleslaw you’re eating alongside the t-bone, and can handle the juxtaposition of sweet/salty/hot barbecue sauce you might want to dip your meat in.

Meg’s Picks: Il Nobilo from New Zealand was like a fruit-forward tropical creamsicle that made me feel like I was on a white sand beach in paradise… not on my couch in 100 degree weather feeling guilty that I didn’t go to the gym… and I loved it for that.

Next post- Chardonnay 201- it’s time to taste some of the wines from around the world and see if I figured out the grape at all.